Nicholas E. Wagman Observatory
225 Kurn Road
Tarentum, PA 15084
The Nicholas E. Wagman Observatory is owned and operated by the AAAP. Originally built in 1987 and expanded in 1995, it is the first and only amateur astronomical observatory in western Pennsylvania dedicated to public education and enjoyment of the science of astronomy. The facility is the focal point for scheduled public viewing evenings (Star Parties), as well as the recreational and scientific observations of the membership. During Star Parties visitors may view celestial objects through the observatory's two large permanent telescopes: the Brashear 11-Inch Refractor and the Manka Memorial Telescope, or any of a wide variety of portable telescopes set up on the spacious grounds by members. The observatory is a popular outing for scout groups, science classes from local schools, and civic groups.
|The original construction||After the 1995 renovation||After the installation of the Manka Memorial Telescope||Friendly staff at the ready|
The Site in Deer Lakes Park
The Wagman Observatory hill, located in the northeast corner of Deer Lakes Park, is ideally suited for an astronomical facility. At 1340ft. elevation it is one of the highest points in Allegheny County, and one of the few such sites not already occupied by a radio mast, microwave relay tower, or water tank. It is believed that local indian tribes in the area, such as the Seneca, once used the hill as a lookout for watching game and the activities of neighboring tribes. The hill affords an almost 100% view of the sky. Because of its location in a relatively rural country park, the observatory is protected from the majority of commercial or residential development that could cause excessive stray and misdirected lighting (Light Pollution). Yet the site can be reached from downtown Pittsburgh in 45 minutes, and even from the southern reaches of the county in less than an hour, thanks to the proximity of the route 28 expressway, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Directions to Wagman Observatory
|View a PDF format map [approx. 605 KB]||Mapquest link|
Mingo Creek Park Observatory
The Mingo Creek Park Observatory is owned and operated by the AAAP. The Observatory was built in the spring/summer of 2004, and officially dedicated in August of 2005.
It has become the largest amateur astronomical observatory in SouthWestern Pennsylvania dedicated to public education and enjoyment of the science of astronomy.
The mission of the Mingo Creek Park Observatory is to educate and make freely available to a diverse public of all ages programs on astronomy and the preservation of dark skies.
The facility is a focal point for scheduled public viewing evenings (Star Parties), as well as the recreational and scientific observations of the membership.
During Star Parties visitors are able to view celestial objects through the observatory's two large permanent telescopes, or any of a wide variety of portable telescopes set up on the spacious grounds by members.
The observatory has become a popular destination and center of astronomical activities for scout groups, science classes from local schools, and civic groups.
(16" Cassegrain - old) (24" RC - new) (10" D&G Refractor)
The Site in Mingo Creek Park
Driving directions to the observatory are available in PDF and Microsoft Word format; or use Google Maps to find driving directions to the park from a location you specify. The precise location of the observatory is indicated on this map by MapQuest.
The Greene County Site
Despite Wagman observatory being in just about the remotest part of Allegheny County, the sky glow from encroaching civilization is plainly visible. For those AAAP members who want to experience the night sky in all of its pre-industrial age glory, there is the Greene County Site. This "observatory" is actually a cow pasture, whose owner has given the AAAP explicit permission to use as a site for setting up portable telescopes and equipment. AAAP members routinely caravan to the site, meeting at someplace easily located along the way, and then finding their way together. There are no "comfort facilities" at this site (the site is actually the comfort station for the cows, so watch your step), nor is there electricity. So come prepared to be self sufficient for the evening's observing. There are no public events held at this location.
Directions to the Greene County Site
The Brashear 11-Inch Refractor
The showpiece of the Wagman Observatory is the Brashear 11-Inch Refractor. This telescope was originally built by famed Pittsburgh optician and avid amateur astronomer John Brashear in 1910. The construction of the telescope was commissioned by Pittsburgh industrialists and patrons of science, Andrew Carnegie and William Thaw, to observe the 1910 appearance of Halley's comet. It was originally mounted at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University). After 1914 it was put in storage until the 1960's when it was loaned to Ohio State University to await an observatory. OSU was never able to raise the money for an acceptable home, so the pieces of the telescope were returned to CMU. There it sat until 1984 when AAAP member and CMU professor Truman Kohman had the telescope donated to the AAAP.
The long years of storage and neglect had left their mark on the telescope. In addition to the corrosion, plant growth, and grime; several important pieces were missing. Bob Schmidt and Wade Barbin began the process of cleaning and testing the optics, while other members of the restoration committee chaired by Ken Kobus began to repair, restore, and replicate all the parts needed. After three and a half years (and less than $1000, thanks to the volunteer work of the AAAP members and local manufacturing facilities), the telescope was ready to be mounted again.
At this time the Wagman Observatory had completed just "Phase I" of construction. A 12.5" Newtonian reflector was mounted under a roll-off roof, with an adjacent warm up room/office. There would need to be expansion if the Brashear was to have a home. During the fall of 1995 AAAP volunteers added a 20-by-40-foot room with another roll-off roof. Leo Scanlon, founding member of the AAAP, was awarded the honor of being the first to look though the new (old) telescope.
For more information on John Brashear and the Brashear 11-Inch Refractor, visit Pete Zapadka's Dr. John A. Brashear and the Brashear 11-Inch Refractor page or this article by Karen Carlin which appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 1995.
Here are pictures of the Brashear and pieces in various stages of restoration.
|The Brashear on the Campus of Carnegie Tech early in the 20th century (this photo courtesy Truman Kohman)||Eric Fischer with the pier in its "as found" condition||Ken Kobus and Wade Barbin work on the polar axis and drive gear||The objective||In its new home at the Wagman Observatory with proud AAAP'ers Ken Kobus, Flaccus Stifel, Joyce Osborne-Fischer, Eric Fischer, and Wade Barbin.|
The Manka Memorial 21-Inch Telescope
The most recent addition to the AAAP's family is Western Pennsylvania's largest public observatory telescope, the 21" f/4.75 Manka Memorial Telescope (MMT - not to be confused with the Multiple Mirror Telescope which is just a bit larger). Built by Jim Riffle, and previously owned by John Liptak, the MMT was formally dedicated September 26th, 1998.
The original telescope housed in the "Scanlon Room" of Wagman Observatory was a 12.5" Newtonian Reflector loaned to the AAAP in 1987 from Carnegie-Mellon University. That telescope served the AAAP and the public very well during its 10+ year tour of duty. After the Brashear refractor restoration was completed in 1995, the club looked to upgrade the Scanlon Room instrument. In 1996 long time AAAP member Tim Manka made a very generous donation towards this goal in honor of his parents. The search was on for a telescope to earn the name "Manka Memorial Telescope". The first choice was to purchase a 16" Dobsonian from member Brent Hudock. But after further deliberation into the required customization and mounting of the 16", the costs became prohibitive. Then in early 1998 a telescope was advertised in the "Starry Messenger". It was a 21" Newtonian with a rotating nose piece (just right to keep the eyepiece in a comfortable position regardless of telescope attitude), an open truss design, a very heavy duty mount, and a bevy of extras.
In March 1998, Wade Barbin, Flac Stifel, Bill Yorkshire, and Dave Smith drove to Tonawanda, NY to make final arrangements with John Liptak for the purchase of his telescope. The telescope was broken down into pieces (not the mirror though), and transported back to Pittsburgh in two vans. After a few bits of metal working magic to mate the new telescope's pier with the existing structure in the Scanlon Room, the MMT was ready for starlight by June.
Since the initial installation, AAAP members Flacc Stifel and Fran Elder have been very active is tweaking everything just right, and adding the special little touches to make this the AAAP's very own. Fresh paint, acrylic covers over the exposed gears, more counter-weights, new wiring, a Telrad finder, more counter-weights, a new mount for the piggy back Celestron C-11, more counter-weights; all have shaped the new MMT.
Here are more images, click on the image size/quality to get the full image (file sizes listed).
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Much of the information about Wagman observatory and its location is from the pamphlets published by the AAAP.
The information on the Brashear Refractor was culled from an article written by Timothy Lester appearing in the March 1996 issue of "Sky & Telescope" magazine.
Mingo Creek Park Observatory entries by Larry McHenry
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